Happy National Poetry Month!
Today and tomorrow we’ll take a look at two variations on a topic: blackberries. First up, Sylvia Plath.
Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a seaSomewhere at the end of it, heaving. BlackberriesBig as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyesEbon in the hedges, fatWith blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.
Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.I do not think the sea will appear at all.The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.
The only thing to come now is the sea.From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings meTo the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rockThat looks out on nothing, nothing but a great spaceOf white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmithsBeating and beating at an intractable metal.
Plath has a certain way with descriptions (think of that final line “I eat men like air”), a talent that is on full display here. From the visceral way she describes the berries to the “bits of burnt paper” crows, Plath captures something of the world that goes beyond merely seeing a scene. She certainly manages to capture the sensory elements (the feel of the fruit and wind, the sound of the crows) but she is also able to bring to life a sense of solitude as the narrator walks alone along the sheep’s path. It’s an evocative work, full of sense and emotion, and one that deftly captures a beautiful and melancholy moment in time.